The aim of the Bill is to amend the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) in order to improve access to public buildings. It intends to achieve this by stipulating that the duty to take "reasonable steps" to adjust buildings will require building owners to introduce a ramp in substitution for single step access. The Bill proposes that this obligation would initially apply to steps of less than six-inches in height with provision made for the obligation to extend to steps up to 12-inches in height at a later date. This would enable 800,000 wheelchair users to have step-free access to 70,000 shops and public buildings to which they are currently denied access at the moment.
This Bill is identical to one which received a second reading in November 2014 but was rejected by the Government.
The Act currently places a duty on those providing goods, facilities or services to the public to make reasonable adjustments in circumstances where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with non-disabled people. It is an offence under the Act to fail to make “reasonable adjustments” to a building so that disabled persons are not discriminated against. What is a “reasonable adjustment” naturally varies between the needs of different disabilities, persons, buildings and circumstances, but it can be enforced only by a person taking a service provider to court to compel that provider to make the adjustment.
The Department for Work and Pensions and DisabledGo study visited and assessed a massive sample of 30,000 shops and restaurants. Its findings were that 20% did not have wheelchair access.
This Bill is seeking to clarify what a reasonable adjustment is and to try and ensure rules are in place to force businesses to make suitable adjustments to allow wheelchair access.
The Bill requires buildings providing goods, facilities or services to the public, to introduce a ramp, suitable for wheelchair access, in substitution for a single access step if the single access step is less than six inches in height.
At a later date it will require buildings to introduce a ramp, suitable for wheelchair access, in substitution for a single access step if the single access step is less than twelve inches in height.
These rules do not apply to buildings which have more than one step in order to gain access.
The rules for steps of less than six inches in height will come into force 12 months after the amendment is passed, however for steps of less than 12 inches in height the rules will come into force 2 years after the amendment is passed. This leaves very little time for alterations to be made to buildings.
The second reading in the House of Lords took place in November 2017. The committee stage for the Bill has yet to be scheduled. It is a private members bill so it may not make it through to the next stage, especially with Brexit taking up the majority of the Government’s time at present.